Following on the success of the first two seasons, “Coast Guard Alaska” is back! With the show’s premiere tonight, we asked our Facebook fans if they could ask Lt. Cmdr. Jake Smith, a pilot at Air Station Kodiak, anything, what would it be? With more than 70 questions asked, it was clear fans were eager to hear more about the men and women who operate in Alaska.
We picked the top five most “liked” questions but true to form for the units in Alaska – the mission comes first. With the end of the year approaching, crews at Air Station Kodiak are hard at work completing training requirements and Lt. Cmdr. Jake Smith was called away for “daddy duty” as he and his wife welcomed a healthy new baby to the Coast Guard family. We appreciate your support and enthusiasm, so standby for answers to the top questions tomorrow! Until then, you’ll have a chance to see operations in the season three premiere tonight!
While Lt. Cmdr. Smith is still out on “daddy duty” one if his fellow pilots, Lt. William Burwell volunteered to answer our fans’ questions. Burwell has been in the Coast Guard for more than seven years. After completing Officer Candidate School he was sent to Naval Flight Training in Pensacola, Fla. His first flying tour was at Sector San Diego and he has been in Kodiak for a year and a half.
A.j. Hollingsworth: I’m 17 going on 18 soon and am studying and training to be a Coast Guardsman, do you have any advice for me? Because my recruiter is telling me right now it’s going to be hard to get in. This has been my dream career for a long time and I’m hoping to make it!
A.J., it’s always great to hear from people who want to do what we get to do for a career. On the flipside of that coin is the reality that the Coast Guard is a very sought after career path and one that requires a lot of hard work and a track record of meeting responsibility and challenge with accomplishment. Keep your grades up, score well on the ASVAB – there are numerous study aids out there, join an organization like JROTC or the Coast Guard Auxiliary and dress and act professionally when you meet your recruiter. Keep studying hard, stay out of trouble and I will hopefully see you in our ranks soon!
Mark George: Can you describe what it’s like to fly in a storm?
Flying through a storm is a very challenging and even physically exhausting task. Our first course of action when faced with storm conditions is to AVOID THE STORM. The MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter, like all aircraft has limitations on just how much violent air and icing we can fly through; it is never wise to test those limitations. We rely on onboard radar and our knowledge of reading weather forecasts to keep us clear of storms. If our only route is through a storm we must proceed with caution as severe weather can be disorienting and requires constant crew coordination to ensure a safe outcome.
Jenny Bandita Garcia: My 12-year-old daughter wants to join the U.S. Coast Guard when she finishes school. Can you give her any advice on special studies she might need?
Kudos to your daughter for being so smart about her future, Jenny! I would make sure she gets a lot of experience doing things that impact others, such as volunteer work helping or out those in her community. College is very important to the Coast Guard, so be sure to keep that in mind when looking for pathways to becoming an officer. If she is more interested in the enlisted career paths it is still wise to pursue higher education as it is not uncommon for people newly enlisting in the Coast Guard to have associate or bachelor’s degrees.
Craig Wildi: Why are Jayhawks widely used in Alaska, rather than the Dolphins typically used elsewhere, and vice versa?
The MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter does represent the majority of Coast Guard helicopters that operate in and around Alaska. The Jayhawk is an extremely capable and powerful helicopter with anti-icing equipment that is required for all weather operations in this challenging area. The MH-65C Dolphin helicopter also has its merits and Air Station Kodiak operates four of these aircraft to support Coast Guard cutter deployments in the treacherous waters of the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. The Dolphin’s smaller size makes it an ideal deployable aircraft on cutters and, due to the fact that they represent the majority of our total helicopter inventory by more than double, most of the Coast Guard’s air stations in the Lower 48 are equipped with them.
Blake Danger DeMarchis: Mr. Smith, do you normally maintain a sprouting mustache or are you a Mo Bro? Also, are you OCS or Academy and what airframe do you fly?
“Danger”- Mr. Smith and I are part of the wardroom’s celebration and support of Movember, the annual campaign to raise money for improved awareness of men’s health issues. In the process we manage to annoy our loved ones by proudly cultivating these hideous mustaches. I gained my commission by completing Officer Candidate School and I fly the mighty MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter.
Jim Mathews: I’d like to know how much the SARSAT and personal locator beacons have changed what the folks at Kodiak, and other stations, do versus maybe a few years ago?
Great question! Without a doubt the proliferation of 406 emergency position indicating radio beacons, 406 electronic location transmitters and personal locator beacons have helped us save lives. When someone activates their beacon there is a greater chance we will find them much sooner than we would if they were relying on only passive signaling methods. The location accuracy of 406 EPIRB with GPS is upwards of 45 times more accurate than the previous generation of beacons. In addition to affecting a quicker rescue, this improvement allows us to lessen our expenditure of search and rescue resources and increases the safety of us as rescuers. In the cases of the fishing vessel Katmai sinking and the Western Venture fire the use of their EPIRBs was the only notification we received that there was a distress situation.